Spending two weeks at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany, was like riding a rollercoaster. Some sessions would be surprisingly cheering, such as hearing that transport company DHL was clearly serious about delivering zero-carbon parcels, and was already completing 10 per cent of urban Dutch deliveries by bicycle.
At others, it would be clear that some major multinationals still don’t get it: Rolls Royce, for example, was extolling the virtues of liquid natural gas engines for ships destined to be used for decades, leading to only a limited cut in emissions.
And on top of that, some sessions were truly eye-opening – hearing about the Bolivian alternative to the disastrous REDD+ trading scheme was an insight into how we might really think differently about the planet.
The formal talks broadly achieved the modest targets set, including the gender action plan and the Local Communities and Indigenous People’s Platform (both on the agenda but not agreed upon back in 2015), some important promises on pre- 2020 action and technical progress on the details of the Paris ‘rulebook’, which is to be finalised in Katowice, Poland, this year.
But what was clearer in Bonn than ever before is that the annual gatherings of the climate change community have become about much more than the UN process.
It’s hard to get climate change on the news agenda – particularly in Britain – but whether it is topping the bulletins or not, these two weeks are a time when governments are focused on climate change, when the people who work day in and day out, in NGOs and campaign groups, in universities and government offices, get to meet, talk and take important steps forward, while learning and being bolstered for the year’s work ahead.
This year, we saw the launch of the Powering Past Coal Alliance. We saw our own Cllr Andrew Cooper’s plan for Locally Determined Contributions agreed at the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders. We saw unions and environmental NGOs working together on the crucial issue of just transition.
There’s no doubt that the shadow of President Trump hung over the talks – but that was more about theatre and performance than genuine impact. California Governor Jerry Brown summed up an important message to take away: “Trump is not an excuse for the rest of you not to act.”